Monday, November 23, 2009

Does Mark Mangino Eat His Players?

The cult of the dictatorial football coach goes back as far as the game itself.

There’s nothing new about a coach using any available tactic to try to motivate his players.

Take, for example, Vince Lombardi, the coach whose name graces the National Football League’s championship trophy.

Lombardi (a fellow graduate of my alma mater, Fordham University), transformed the Green Bay Packers from perennial door mats into NFL champions in the 1960s by any means necessary.

As Packers guard Jerry Kramer wrote of Lombardi in the book, Instant Replay, “He treated us all the same…like dogs.”

Lombardi is probably an icon to Mark Mangino, the 450-pound head coach at Kansas University.

But it is likely that Mangino’s means of motivating players through fear and intimidation sorely lacks Lombardi’s well-known compassion for those who turned his teachings into victories on autumn Sundays.

Beneath Lombardi’s crusty exterior was said to be a fatherly figure who loved his players unconditionally.

Beneath Mangino’s crusty exterior appears to be an overabundance of girth and mean-spiritedness.

Current and former players—each of whom is African-American—are speaking out about cruel, despicable remarks allegedly made by Mangino.

Why now?

Kansas is losing, 1-6 in the Big 12 Conference, two years after winning the Big 12 and representing the conference in a BCS game, the Orange Bowl.

Players who have long incurred the wrath of Mangino now see blood in the water and want nothing better than to harpoon him.

Former player Raymond Brown, whose brother had been shot and wounded, said Mangino told him, “I’ll send you back to St. Louis where you can get shot by your homies.”

Former linebacker and team captain Joe Mortensen said Mangino threatened him by saying, “I’ll send you back to the ghetto. You can stand on the corner and drink out of a paper bag.”

Former Kansas wide receiver Dexton Fields said he heard Mangino tell another player, “You want to be a lawyer? You’re going to be an alcoholic just like your dad.”

For a college student of limited means on an athletic scholarship, the threat of having that scholarship revoked creates a chilling effect.

It is nothing short of psychological torture.

My attempts to reach former Kansas All-America Aqib Talib, now a rookie cornerback with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have been unsuccessful.

But I’ll keep trying.

Mangino brought his demoralized Jayhawks to Texas last Saturday night, where they were slaughtered by the Longhorns 51-20.

One Texas fan brought the following sign to the game:

“Mark Mangino Eats His Players.”

Whether the players’ allegations are spot-on or exaggerated, Mangino appears to be a goner at KU.

How can he (or any assistant) walk into the home of an African-American recruit whose background approximates those of the players assailing Mangino and convince a parent that their son would be in good hands?

That Coach Mangino would care for their son as if he were his own?

Too many players, past and present, are making too many of the same allegations about Mangino for them to be purely coincidental.

On a radio show last week, Mangino claimed “99 percent” of his players at Kansas have had no problem with him.

Well, where are they?

So far, I have heard just two Kansas players defend Mangino.

Quarterback Todd Reesing told the Associated Press, “He came here to a team that was undisciplined and a program that lacked it and he established discipline and got guys to work hard and believe in themselves.”

Reesing may be accurate in describing his relationship with Mangino.

But it’s worth noting that Reesing is not African-American.

Nor is he from a family of limited means or a hardscrabble neighborhood.

Mangino probably has never spoken to Reesing in the same disrespectful tone he is alleged to have used with the black players.

Perhaps Mangino bullies players without displaying any tough love to try to compensate for his own shortcomings.

The unmistakable fact is when Mangino stands on the sideline he resembles a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float at rest.

Clearly, this morbidly obese man is not able to manage his own body, which would make it impossible for me to entrust him with my progeny.

While Mangino does not literally eat football players, he also does not seem to nurture their spirit or teach them anything that will make them better men.

A Lombardi he most certainly is not.

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